Suchocka, Hanna (1946—)

views updated

Suchocka, Hanna (1946—)

Polish politician who as prime minister of Poland was the first woman to lead the country since Queen Jadwiga in the 14th century. Pronunciation: HAHN-nah sue-HUT-ska. Born on April 3, 1946, in Pleszew, Poland; received a law and doctoral degree from Poznan University; also studied at the Institute of Public Law in Heidelberg, Germany, and participated in a course organized by Columbia University, in New York; never married; no children.

Was the fifth post-Communist prime minister of Poland (July 10, 1992–October 26, 1993).

Born in 1946 and raised in Pleszew, a village in western Poland, where her parents owned the local pharmacy, Hanna Suchocka was a model child, achieving a perfect attendance record in school and regularly attending the local Catholic church. Although her parents had hoped she would pursue a career in pharmacy, she chose instead to study law at Poznan University. After graduating in 1968, she stayed on to accept a probational teaching position. A year later, she forfeited renewal of her contract when she refused to join the Communist Party, as all faculty members were expected to do. Objecting to the Communists' atheistic tenets, she joined the Democratic Party instead. "I decided I wanted to be an independent person," she said in an interview with Stephen Engelberg for The New York Times Magazine (September 12, 1993). "I wanted to have the freedom to go to church because I was authentically raised in this. It was not for show. It was real." After leaving the university faculty, she took a job at the Institute of Small Arts and Crafts and began working on her law degree, which she received in the early 1970s. In 1973, she was rehired by the university, where she later earned her doctoral degree, with a specialization in constitutional law.

Suchocka's political career began in 1980, with her election to the Sejm (lower house of Parliament) on the Democratic Party ticket.

After Solidarity, Suchocka joined the labor movement (founded by Lech Walesa) and soon became a legal adviser to the union. In 1984, after voting against the government's decision to outlaw Solidarity, Suchocka either left, or was asked to leave, the party.

Following the collapse of Communist rule in Poland in 1989, Suchocka returned to the Sejm, this time as a member of the Civic Committee. Conservative in her views, but gaining respect as a well-informed lawmaker, she was reelected in 1991 as a member of the Democratic Union, a center-left party founded by Suchocka and a group of Solidarity leaders. The 1991 election was, however, the first full democratic polling held in post-Communist Poland, and it produced a Parliament with so many opposing factions that it became impossible to produce a coalition government that could endure. In the summer of 1992, the coalition of Waldemar Pawlak, leader of the Polish Peasants Party, collapsed after only five weeks in power. It was at this time that Suchocka, whose low-key style had earned her few enemies, was suggested as a candidate for the fifth post-Communist prime minister. After initially declining the offer, claiming that she was unprepared for such an undertaking, she eventually relented, and began assembling a working coalition. By July 1992, she had the backing of six parties, in addition to her own. Nominated by Lech Walesa on July 8, Suchocka was confirmed by Parliament two days later, by a vote of 233 to 61, with 113 abstentions. "My mission is to calm down disputes between political parties," she said in her inaugural address. "This is a government of social reconciliation." Suchocka was the first woman to lead the country since Queen Jadwiga , of the Angevin dynasty, during the 14th century.

Suchocka succeeded in holding the diversified political parties together for 15 months, longer than any of her predecessors had been able to do. She also guided Poland further into capitalism, helping to strengthen the Polish economy in the process. "The Suchocka government seems to have literally snatched Poland's economy from the brink of failure," said Ian Hume, the director of the World Bank in Warsaw, in an interview for The Christian Science Monitor (May 7, 1993), "and created the conditions to see it emerge again as the leader among the post-Communist reforming countries."

However, with the free-market reforms came a rise in unemployment and the cost of consumer goods. In the end, Suchocka's restructuring attempt lost the support of her constituency, who clung to the security they had become accustomed to under Communist rule. The election of September 1993 saw her toppled from office in favor of a coalition of former Communists and other leftist leaders. On October 26, 1993, she relinquished the prime ministership to Pawlak, who had served briefly before her, although she continued to serve as a member of Parliament.

Suchocka, who never married, is known as a fiercely private woman, intelligent and hardworking, but lacking the hard-ball political instincts of Margaret Thatcher , to whom she is frequently compared. However, it is also believed that Suchocka's easy-going political style may have helped her advance as far as she did. "Perhaps it is because I'm a woman that I have more patience and more of this willingness to compromise," she told Francine Kiefer of The Christian Science Monitor. "My closest staff frequently says, 'No! Enough! We just cannot go on like this,' [whereas] I still feel that there is some work that can be done and that a compromise can still be found."


Graham, Judith, ed. Current Biography. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1994.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts